Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Joan M. Wilson, Assistant District Attorney, Anchorage, and Daniel S. Sullivan, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and BOLGER, Judges.
B.F.L., a minor, appeals the superior court's order committing him to the custody of the Department of Health and Social Services pursuant to AS 47.12.120(b)(1)-in other words, an order that allows the Department to place B.F.L. in a juvenile detention facility. B.F.L. argues that the superior court failed to adequately consider the feasibility of a disposition under either subsection 120(b)(2) or subsection 120(b)(3) of the statute-that is, a disposition that would have limited the Department to placing B.F.L. in non-detention facilities.
As we describe in this opinion, B.F.L. has a history of repeated failures both on probation and in non-detention placements. In addition, B.F.L. has demonstrated resistance to needed mental health treatment and medication. These factors provide ample basis
for the superior court's decision to allow the Department to place B.F.L. in a detention facility.
B.F.L.'s history within the juvenile justice system
B.F.L.'s history of juvenile delinquency began in the summer of 2006, just after he turned fifteen years old. The Department filed a delinquency petition charging him with second-degree burglary, fourth-degree criminal mischief, fourth-degree theft, and sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.
In October 2006, B.F.L. admitted the burglary, theft, and criminal mischief charges. Because he was a first offender, the superior court held his delinquency adjudication in abeyance for six months, with the anticipation that if he demonstrated rehabilitative progress during these six months of informal probation, the delinquency case would be dismissed.
As part of his informal probation, B.F.L. agreed to various conditions of conduct formulated by the Department. Among these conditions, B.F.L. agreed that he would attend school regularly, that he would live with his mother and follow the rules set by her, that he would keep in regular contact with the Department's juvenile probation office, and that he would not ingest illegal substances.
One month after agreeing to these conditions, B.F.L. stopped going to school, and his mother reported that he was out of control. At about the same time, B.F.L. attempted to commit suicide. The superior court issued a warrant for B.F.L.'s arrest; he was taken into custody on December 3, 2006 and placed at the Fairbanks Youth Facility.
B.F.L. remained in pre-adjudication custody at the Fairbanks Youth Facility until March 8, 2007. On that date, the superior court rescinded the " hold in abeyance" agreement, and the superior court adjudicated B.F.L. a delinquent minor.
In a delinquency proceeding, if the superior court decides to subject the minor to some level of ongoing government supervision, there are essentially three types of disposition available to the court under the provisions of AS 47.12.120(b).
The least restrictive disposition is defined in subsection (b)(2) of the statute. Under this subsection, the court places the minor on probation (supervised by the Department), but releases the minor to the custody of parents, guardians, or other suitable persons.
The next level of restriction is defined in subsection (b)(3) of the statute. Under this subsection, the court commits the minor to the custody of the Department, giving the Department the authority to release the minor to the custody of parents or guardians, or to place the minor in a foster home or any suitable non-detention residential facility. (Subsection (b)(5) of the statute, which authorizes the superior court to commit the minor to the custody of the Department for the specific purpose of placing the minor in an " adventure-based" education program, appears to be a more restricted variant of the commitment authority granted by subsection (b)(3).)
The highest level of restriction is defined in subsection (b)(1) of the statute. Under this subsection, the court commits the minor to the custody of the Department, giving the Department the authority to make any placement it deems appropriate-including placement in a detention facility.
Both Alaska Delinquency Rule 11(e) and its companion statute, AS 47.12.140(2), specify that when the superior court chooses among the three dispositions defined in AS 47.12.120(b)(1)-(b)(3), the court must impose " the least restrictive alternative", given the rehabilitative needs of the minor and the need to protect the public. Delinquency Rule 11(e) also declares that the State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the chosen disposition is the least restrictive alternative.
In B.F.L.'s case, the superior court concluded that a disposition under subsection (b)(2) was appropriate. That is, the court placed the minor on probation to the Department. As a special condition of probation, the court ordered B.F.L. to complete the residential treatment program offered by Alaska Children's Services, but then B.F.L.
was to be released to the custody of his sister in Idaho.
B.F.L. began his treatment at Alaska Children's Services, but in early July (that is, after about four months), he absconded from this residential program. B.F.L. remained at large for four days until he was arrested. When B.F.L. was arrested, the Department asked Alaska Children's Services to re-admit B.F.L. into the treatment program, but Alaska Children's Services refused. The staff at Alaska Children's Services concluded that B.F.L.'s behavior was too risky for the level of supervision that they could offer.
B.F.L. remained in the Department's custody, first at the McLaughlin Youth Center and then at the Fairbanks Youth Facility, until the end of September 2007, when he was released to his father and flown to Anchorage for admission to the Alaska Military Youth Academy. In conjunction with this placement, B.F.L.'s conditions of probation were modified to require successful completion of the Alaska Military Youth Academy.
Two weeks after his admission to the Alaska Military Youth Academy, B.F.L. absconded. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest on October 16th, but this warrant remained unserved until ...